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3 Things the Twins Saw in Matt Shoemaker's Arsenal

For such a low-cost, late-winter signing, the Twins’ acquisition of Matt Shoemaker feels like a tactical strike. There are three things in Shoemaker’s skill set that made him a perfect target for Minnesota’s front office.
Image courtesy of John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
First of all, Shoemaker throws both a four-seam fastball and a sinker, and he locates each of them consistently and effectively. His four-seamer has an above-average spin rate, and he’s able to attack the top of the strike zone with it, especially from the middle of the plate to the first-base side of it. His sinker has a markedly lower spin rate, which is a plus for that particular pitch, and he runs it in on the hands of right-handed batters well.

A significant difference in spin rates between the four-seamer and sinker is, in itself, a fairly unusual and desirable characteristic, and demonstrates Shoemaker’s overall feel for pitching. It’s just a bonus, though. The Twins love to have pitchers utilize two fastballs, even if they lack that rare differential, as long as they can command each to at least one side of home plate. Wes Johnson has worked to Foster that skill in José Berríos over the last two seasons. He and his staff got Kenta Maeda back to using both fastballs more evenly after acquiring him last winter. Jake Odorizzi dramatically increased his sinker usage, in defiance of league-wide trends, after the Twins acquired him in February 2018, and it helped unlock other stuff in his repertoire. There’s a clear organizational preference for two-fastball approaches, where they can be acquired or taught at reasonable cost.

Shoemaker has something else in common with Maeda and Odorizzi, and with Homer Bailey (who was last winter’s equivalent of the Shoemaker signing): his changeup is a splitter. That’s a pitch (or pitch variant) for which the Twins also have a clear affinity. There are (pardon the pun) a handful of ways to throw a changeup, and each tends to create a slightly different effect. Circle-changes maximize the lateral movement (or fade) of the pitch, relative to a fastball. Four-seam changeups like Lucas Giolito’s can create massive velocity differentials between the fastball and the change. The splitter tends to generate the largest separation in vertical movement from a fastball, though, especially because they tend to be very, very low in spin (Shoemaker’s is no exception). That usually means a lot of swings and misses.

The biggest tradeoffs in throwing the splitter come in the realm of command, and (by extension) in vulnerability to home runs. There are also some teams who still believe that splitters cause elbow injuries. There’s no truth to the latter, when the pitch is thrown correctly, but the notion persists. The Twins target hurlers who have demonstrated good command of their splitters, and don’t sweat the injury risk. Even if it were real, and properly priced by the market, the Twins would not be cowed: they’re more risk-friendly than most teams.

Shoemaker’s fourth pitch is the third reason why the Twins took a particular interest in him. His slider has excellent vertical depth. That’s something we’ve seen the Twins emphasize in several recent acquisitions, but also as they’ve tweaked and rebuilt the sliders of incumbent pitchers like Ryan Pressly, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey. Vertical movement engenders swings and misses better than horizontal movement does, and makes a pitch more effective against opposite-handed batters. Even as he’s made other, productive changes to his pitch mix over the last few years, Shoemaker has not thrown his slider much against left-handed batters. The Twins might well change that this year, even at the expense of his uninspiring curveball.

Unlike some other teams, the Twins don’t lock in on any one type of pitcher. They may like certain things that Berríos, Maeda, Odorizzi, J.A. Happ, and Shoemaker have in common, but they like Michael Pineda and Rich Hill, too, for the very different things they do well. Still, Shoemaker is a perfect fit for Johnson and the team’s pitching infrastructure, and that should increase fans’ confidence that he’ll pitch well in 2021.

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5 Comments

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specialiststeve
Feb 20 2021 09:43 PM

Like Bailey he a lottery ticket/throw away guy. 

 

If he pitchers well awesome.. but...Not likely.... if not ...they are biding time for one of their up and comers.... no lose. 

 

 

    • DocBauer and Richard Swerdlick like this
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James Rivah Twins Fan
Feb 21 2021 06:16 AM

Thank you for the interesting breakdown of pitches Matthew and well written too.

    • DocBauer, Scott51104 and Richard Swerdlick like this

Given that analysis it seems like injuries are the main thing that have held him back.If he can stay healthy this could be a very good signing.Hopefully the Twins do what they can to keep him healthy.

    • DocBauer, MN_ExPat and Joey P like this
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Andrew Bryzgornia
Feb 21 2021 11:17 AM

I don't agree with your take about Shoemaker's 2-seamer and splitter following an organizational trend. The slider definitely is, as we can see with all the minor reliever signings and waiver claims they've made, but I don't feel you have sufficient evidence for the other two pitches. 

 

You cited Odorizzi and Maeda throwing more sinkers after they joined the Twins. According to Texas Leaguers (my favorite pitchF/X source), Odorizzi has thrown a single 2-seamer since 2018, and that one even looked like a mislabeled 4-seamer. Maeda threw 2-seamers a whole 6% of the time last year. I will concede that it is true that he used his 2-seamer and 4-seamer "more evenly" last year (6% and 20% in 2020 compared to 3.6% and 33% in 2019, respectively) but it was more due to a reduction in his 4-seamer (and increase in his slider usage, 32% in 2019 to 42% in 2020) rather than a pronounced increase in his 2-seamer usage. 

 

Also, this "clear organizational preference for two-fastball approaches" seems false, even if you're including Colome and his 4-seamer/cutter combo. Shoemaker, Colome, and Berrios are the only pitchers that immediately come to mind as featuring two fastballs, and upon further review, we can also include Happ (4-seamer: 42.6%, 2-seamer: 22.5% last year) and Dobnak (but his 4-seamer was only thrown 4.4% of the time last year). If we include the non-roster invitees with major league experience, there's Albers (4-seamer: 25%, 2-seamer: 40% in 2017, his last major-league season) and that's it. This regime also had Duffey stop throwing his 2-seamer rather than use it more, even though anecdotally I felt it had incredible movement. Five pitchers and one NRI out of 13 or 14 that will be on the Opening Day roster doesn't feel like an organizational trend. 

 

I feel similarly about citing Shoemaker's splitter as being a "clear affinity" for the coaching staff. You mentioned him, Maeda, Bailey, and Odorizzi. I'll admit, there was also Clippard last season, Blake Parker in 2019, and Oliver Drake in 2018, but that's only a couple more pitchers over the past 3 years. It doesn't feel like an organizational trend when there's only a handful of pitchers fitting the mold over the past few years. 

I apologize for being overly critical, but this article came off as claiming that the Twins like 2-seamers, splitters, and sliders, when I only see that trend with slider-throwing pitchers. I don't feel the organization is collecting pitchers that merely feature those pitches, they're collecting pitchers that either have above-average versions of those pitches, or can possibly be coached into improving their repertoires, and I feel that should have been more clear. 

    • Dman likes this

 

Like Bailey he a lottery ticket/throw away guy. 

 

If he pitchers well awesome.. but...Not likely.... if not ...they are biding time for one of their up and comers.... no lose. 

At least Shoemaker is a $2M lottery ticket, whilst Bailey was a $7M one. 

    • specialiststeve likes this